Final thoughts on an epic British Open
Random musings on an epic Open from somewhere over the Atlantic...
• My favorite Monday morning headline, spied while sprinting through Glasgow airport: CRUEL IN THE SUN, courtesy of the Daily Record.
• The lesson of the 2009 season is that if you're an old fart playing some of the most inspired golf of your life and you have a putt on the 72nd hole to win a tournament you want more than any other, you had better make said putt because all your juju will surely disappear in the ensuing playoff. Both Kenny Perry at Augusta and Tom Watson at Turnberry were carried along for 71 glorious holes by adrenaline and the roars of the crowd. When each made a weak effort of what could have been the winning putt it was like all the energy drained out of their old, tired bodies and the deflated crowds could not reanimate either player, leading to playoffs that were anticlimactic at best, tragic at worst. These opportunities come only come once in a lifetime, and, cruelly, they can disappear in a flash.
• A press room on Sunday night is not the place to go looking for empathy. Among the many oaths that were uttered during the final two holes of the excruciating playoff my favorite was courtesy of Bev Norwood, the longtime IMG operative: "We're gonna be late to dinner for this?!"• Stewart Cink's golf couldn't have been any more macho down the stretch, whether it was converting a do-or-die birdie on the 72nd hole or playing like a young Ben Hogan in his prime during the playoff. One small factor that might or might not have helped Cink: Tiger missing the cut. Prior to last week this would've been my list of the those players suffering the most acute cases of Tigeritis:1. Sergio Garcia2. Ernie Els3. Rory Sabbatini4. Stephen Ames5. Stewart CinkCink has always been very candid about his admiration for Woods and there have been times when he has seemed intimidated competing against him. Had Woods been sneaking up the leaderboard on Sunday Cink may not have played so carefree. Tiger's MC doesn't devalue Cink's victory in any way, but it does make me eager to see how the new Open champ stands up to the world number one the next time they tangle. Cink has always been a sublime physical talent but such a head-case he employs two shrinks. Now he has the self-belief that can only be forged by surviving a major championship Sunday and I think Cink will very quickly grow into a world-class player and occasional Tiger-tamer. We certainly need some new candidates for that thankless job.
• Forget coffee and Brazilian swimsuit models, the leading South American export has become Argentine golfers. I've been a huge Cabrera fan going back to when I covered the 2000 World Cup in Buenos Aires but these days my favorite golfer is definitely Andres Romero. Dude's an absolute madman, relentlessly attacking every hole on every course, sometimes with seeming disregard for risk. Sunday at Turnberry he eagled both par-5s and made a trio of birdies en route to a 67, the low of the day. Someday he's going to win a Masters or Open Championship. Maybe both.
• Too bad Ross Fisher's wife didn't beep him as he was walking off the third green.
• How good is Turnberry? "Instantly one of my top 5 favorite courses in the world," Zach Johnson told me. It would have been even better if the R&A hadn't cluttered the course with very narrow fairways and so much knee-high rough. The brick-hard fairways and strong cross-winds made it almost impossible to hit (or hold) many fairways. Links golf should be about creativity and shotmaking, not penal rough that dictates defensive play.
• On your next visit to southwest Scotland make sure you maketime for Western Gailes, a spectacular course just north of Troon. The Gailes has hosted numerous amateur events and Open qualifiers but because it's not on the Open rota it is something of a cult classic. After touring it again for the first time in years it's definitely one of my favorite links courses, a jaw-dropping collection of heaving fairways, towering dunes, sweeping views and hero shots into beautifully framed greens. Last Friday I enjoyed a game at the Gailes in the distinguished company of colleagues Michael Bamberger and John Garrity. After a long day at the Open we blazed over to the course, arriving on the first tee at exactly 7 p.m. The soft light and long shadows only accentuated the course's beauty. At 10:10 we were putting out on 18, with just enough twilight for me to misread my 12-footer for birdie. Then we drove to Prestwick to have Indian food for dinner, emerging, heavy-legged, around midnight. Only in Scotland.
• Stats of the week: Over the final 36 holes Steve Marino made only 14 pars, cluttering his card with 12 bogies, two doubles, a triple, an eagle and six birdies. In his first Open the kid showed a definite flair for links golf. Once Marino learns to keep the ball in front of him he'll be a perennial darkhorse at the Open.
• One thing that's cool about the linksland is that it forces players to go retro with their equipment. Billy Mayfair dusted off a 1-iron while J.B. Holmes dropped two new-jack sticks -- a 64 degree wedge and a hybrid -- in favor of 2- and 3-irons. I asked him when the last time he carried a 2-iron on the PGA Tour was. "Never," said Holmes. But at Turnberry he was routinely rolling it 330-340 yards downwind.
• One more reason I was rooting for Mark Calcavecchia to win: Last week his wife/caddie, Brenda, was rocking on her calf a tattoo of the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo. I know Flea loves golf -- if Calc had won maybe he would have played the bagpipes next year at St. Andrews. My favorite Calcavecchia story: Years ago, when I was working out SI's New York office, I was editing a feature about the 1989 Open champ in which he discussed his burgeoning romance with Brenda. I asked our fact-checker to get from Calc some basic info on his gal: age, occupation, hometown, physical description. For the last of these Calcavecchia offered the following scouting report to a stranger on the phone: "tight, athletic body." Gotta love it.
• Leaving most every Scottish town there is a sign with an evocative farewell: "Haste ye back." After this wild Open I'm already dying to see what the Old Course serves up next year. Haste ye back, indeed.